Inspector Partridge mysteries.
The Lighthouse murders
The call came from the chief while he was working in Essex.
‘We have a murder in Chatham for you. You’re a local man, Partridge so it’s down to you.’ ‘You have the background and experience for this job’
‘I can tell you who the victim is, but be aware that the parents want no publicity’
Partridge sighed into the phone ‘In a murder case that’s impossible’.
‘You’ll have to get them to play ball, and to help them coast through the nightmare journey to come.’ Retorted the boss
‘The local press won’t play ball on the publicity front’ Partridge insisted
‘— So you’ll just have to hold a press conference for the details. The family’s name is Green, and the victim’s father is the local Mayor.’
‘The Mayor’s family?’ He was speaking to no-one. He thought. Now he was guessing, as the chief had rung off.
He phoned the parents on the hands free set and made an appointment. He knew that this could be one of the last cases he took. The bags under his eyes were stinging, and the feelings inside of were of freewheeling towards the end.
They sat down in their living room, husband and wife, Partridge, Sunday best, cards, flowers, deepest condolences. They were more than tired, raw with emotion, eyes cried out, phone off the hook. Partridge told them “This is going to be hard on everyone; the publicity will be enormous, as will the attention.”
“TV and press will be down on you like vultures, and the rumour mill will run overtime”
Mr Green looked up at him. Even his experience in local politics hadn’t prepared him for this circus. His bloodshot eyes, hang-dog and empty, with pain bags underneath, packed and ready to go, seemed to glisten again with tears.
“So what now? Do we stay in the background, give no interviews and hide?”
“ Well”, Partridge said “Given your position and official duties, you are bound to get questions every day, so stick to the same line. We’re doing all we can, and let us get on with the job”
The couple looked at each other in disbelief. Partridge stood up, paced around the room. The tea had gone cold in the best china, the biscuits had gone stale.
“We’ll get a liaison officer assigned to you and then we’ll get you briefed every day on the unfolding events”.
Who knows, he thought, in murder cases, the family is often implicated.
Tanya Green had been a candidate for the local beauty queen. He drove down to the county of Kent, back thirty years, back home. If any place could be called ‘home’ anymore.
Coming back had been a jolt, and finding his old stomping grounds would be another. He was born in Newcastle, and the family had tagged along with his father’s jobs, moving from Durham and then to Lincoln, Sittingbourne and finally the Medway towns. Then he’d moved to Ashford and after finally left the county.
‘You’re too bloody good’ his lover’d said, ‘but nobody’s irreplaceable’.
He left the flat, lonely and tired. He was dog tired, and illness had taken its toll.
‘Nobody’s irreplaceable’. How ironic. Try telling that to Tanya Green’s parents.
Bleak and heavy, the blackness crept over me, shivering down his spine. Hairs stood on end, water sponged through his boots as he crunched through the gardens. The sun beat down on us, late summer. The thunderstorm came, a wet heat, rising through the leaf litter. A mushroom smell, dampness bounced off his nose. Rattling as he bent through, the chain fence shed its crust of rust, and those lost childhood games of dares and hide and seek flickered on the movie screen of his memory. Dappled and shaded the Admiralty Gardens, bushes bustling and weed full flowerbeds, untended for decades, sank into the background. Nature reclaimed what was left with ease…
The old Admiralty gardens. The last user must have died years ago, since the Dockyard and Chatham closed in the late seventies and early eighties. Thirty years ago. Wildlife and wilderness crept in, changing the place from a child’s imagination. Even thirty years ago, when a child, it had been a foreboding place, but now, it was fearful and fearless. The gardens had been well cared for and manicured at the dockyard’s height. Admiralty House was a tall wooden clad structure, with a very wide, curved, brown, planked frontage. He could almost imagine a columned Greek temple, but this house had none of that style.
There was a gently sloping roof with wooden slats nailed to it horizontally so that you could climb up and view the docks. These led to a flat piece of the roof. From there was a ladder, leaning against the tall tower. Climb up the thirteen rungs, with the rust sticking to sweaty hands and flakes dancing into his face and eyes, into the tower.
At the top of the tower was the lamp for the lighthouse. He looked closely at the small stones in the concrete as he climbed, trying to calm his jangling nerves and jelly legs. His nerves were ragged. He climbed up and faced the rusty safety railings which surrounded the glass light. They encompassed the top of the building. Even when he was a child, no one from our gang had ever been brave enough to get this far. And it had taken all his strength to climb up, with the twin burdens of a dislike of height and illness. The last occupants left years ago, and now his job was to open the glass door and enter, despite everything he knew about the lighthouse. Despite the things he didn’t know, and was yet to discover. The voice, the small, nagging voice, in his head was telling me that going in to the lighthouse would be a bad idea. He heaved back the sliding glass panel, its runners jumping, as he had to lean all his weight against it to get it to budge.
Finally the runners started to squeak, and the glass panel slid open, and he stepped inside.
It was late summer, or early autumn, the weather hadn’t decided. The leaves had started to go brown and from the tower he could see the dead leaves in the garden like islands in the long autumnal grass of the front lawn. The last warmth of summer had just been lost when she had been found in this lighthouse. She’d been murdered, a few days ago and he’d been recalled from another job. Local knowledge had its price and the other job could wait, or would close. He knew the rumors about the lighthouse before the murder and even as kids the biggest thrill was climbing through the fence. The summers of our youth, as the A-Ha song went. He wished to go back there. But the summers of his youth were spent on sunny beaches or playing in gardens, not hunting criminals and searching through crime scenes.
He wasn’t surprised that a body had been found here. It wasn’t the first one, after all.
He climbed slowly back down the ladder, to the flat roof and shakily down the slats to the ground. Solid ground. It wasn’t a scene of beauty, up there in the glass. Beauty had been killed. Like a light bulb had exploded, and killed a giant moth. The smell was appalling, he was lucky it wasn’t high summer. At least the glass had kept the flies out, but it had increased the temperature, like a green house. He could feel the bile rising inside. He emptied his stomach behind the hedge, a few hundred yards away. He’d needed time to stagger there, his head swimming in waves of nausea.
He’d seen some things in the years, weird things, crazy things, but the scene was extreme. The local chief was on site.
‘What do you think?’ She asked.
‘Dunno’ he retorted, trying to buy time to think. ‘Whoever did that was some kind of sicko and no mistake’
The team of forensics climbed up there now, like crazy white ants towards some honey. One after another, in their white disposable overalls, taking photos and checking over the scene with a fine toothed comb. Looking at the splatter patterns. Looking at the positions of the limbs. The marks in the flesh, the angles, the level of potassium in the iris. What she’d eaten last .The pupae of any insects on the body. The list of things to check grew ever longer. He remember when he’d started and wondered how anyone was actually found guilty way back then.
Swabs for DNA came back, as did results. She died three days ago, at most, a sexual attack.
Autopsy would show cause of death but there were so many wound marks it was hard to say. They’d found strangulation bruises from a chord, but her neck wasn’t broken. The bruises were older, so had been caused before death. Traces of alcohol and barbiturates in the blood. The knife wounds, caused by a strong right handed person. A long bladed, serrated knife had caused the wounds, and the limbs had been sawn off with a professional thin bladed saw, the type used in hospitals for amputations. The arms had been pulled out of the sockets after the flesh had been cut around the joints. A circle had been drawn with a pentagram inside on the floor, in purple chalk. The points of the stars were elbows and knees, with the head at the top and the vulva at the bottom. This seemed too bizarre, as if someone was trying to throw us off.
Whoever had done it had had enough time to really plan the set up, he wondered if she’d been killed in situ, and the splatter results showed that the heart had been beating when she was inside the glass prison. We didn’t know if she’d been conscious or drugged the toxicology reports would tell us, he’d look later.
The lighthouse had been built to save lives. What a mess. His guts clawed at me as he left the office, gasping for air. Seeing the photos just burned the images deep into his retinas. All the stories we’d heard about the light house weren’t true, but some were. He was glad it was scheduled for demolition.
He drove to the victim’s parent’s house. He’d have to ask the usual stupid questions, the plod of the work.
Who was she with that night?
Where did they go?
Did she have a boyfriend?
Who were here friends?
Did she have a mobile phone? (Really stupid, all the teenagers had a smart phone now)
Had she argued with her friends or the parents?
Did she have a diary? Or a blog?
Was she on a social network site? Had she been acting strangely over the last few weeks?
Did she have any enemies?
The questions had evolved over the years, except the jist was much the same. Putting together the pieces in a time line.
He typed it all up into the laptop, and emailed it to the investigation team. We’d put together a Power Point show and get a time line established on the boards.
He’d been thinking, trying to put the pieces together.
She’d only been 18. Some of the questions could wait until he’d spoken to the boyfriend and the friends she had. The nightclub she’d been at was only round the corner, at the top or Upbury Road. They never had much trouble there, the manager was strict,’ No ID No entry’ and it was as clean as clubs go. Impossible to be completely free of drugs these days. Like most of society then. Just some teenage girl dancing round her handbag. She’d been a regular never any hassle, always the same group, and a few drinks.
We’d checked the clubs CCTV anyway, and officers were speaking to the people in the club that night. Some had come forward, others had been dragged forward, others still we were searching for. People had many reasons to avoid the police. Perhaps someone had a guilty conscience, but he doubted that. Kids in the nightclub hadn’t killed her.
Syd, the manager of the night club was sitting next to me, giving his statement.
‘She’d been a regular, in with her friends since she turned 18’
‘Not long to be a regular, only six or so months, and she’s not a regular anymore Syd, you should have seen it up there, a real party’
‘Alright, alright’ said Syd, ‘No need for the heavy mob’ ‘She’d come in Friday with her friends. It was party night, a trial for the Halloween in November.’ He paused, his eyed flitting between us. ‘They’d been dressed up in the Time Warp costumes’
Rocky horror picture show just about summed it all up.
Syd spat out the information, disjointed, as it came to him, a stream of consciousness.
Last time she’d been seen was Friday the 13th. He liked this less and less. This just seemed strange. Somebody wanted her dead, and the pretext was to blur the scent with strange Satanic or Wicca references. Not too many white or black witches in the Medway towns, so a quick visit to the local weirdo’s would soon tell if there really was a black side to the inquiry.
Afterwards, he struggled to the pub for a pint. He went back to the flat slowly, walking through the autumnal evening, showered then time for pie and chips. Some things change, and some things don’t. Try not to dream Partridge, it might come true.
Rule one of police work is when you’ve run out of leads, do the research. He’d spend a long time over his career in libraries, museums, and surfing the internet, as well as interviewing experts or authorities on subjects wide and large. Killing people, or even just crime in general took many forms, and finding what motivated them, or what could be the link was essential.
The lighthouse was taken over by the Admiralty when no local men could be persuaded to run the light , despite the salary and high local regard for the men who did. The lighthouse was a mixed building, with additions at later dates, but the tower was built in the Georgian period, with the Georgian style. The building reflected this with a long frontage of wood and stone sides, with bath stone with large gaps between the stones, like a Royal Crescent house in Bath.
At the rear was a sloping, slatted wooden section which led to the flat roof and the external ladder, which in turn led to the light. The living quarters were added later, and the door to the quarters was behind the three-pronged sloping slatted wooden access to the roof. The windows were behind these and it seemed to me that the sloping slatted access gangways must have been added, but his research showed they were an original feature. The first lighthouse men ran up these slatted gangways to gain quick access to the light in times of storms and fogs.
The front of the house faced the sea and the house itself was at the bottom of a steep hill, helping the men as they ran to the light to aid ships in distress. Because the windows were behind the gangways, little or no light filtered into the buildings. Peering through the dusty windows into the musty, dust-laden air behind was a great childhood dare, but today it just seemed empty. How was he going to face the girl’s parents again and tell them half-truths?
The dust on the windows stopped reflections, but he needed time for exactly that;
He could make out the grey dusty interior through the windows, with police tape everywhere inside. The back of the house was overgrown now, with brambles and stinging nettles. You could just walk around the house but it hurt, and the feeling of being watched unnerved me. Originally the sea was 300 meters away, but now the cliff had been eroded by time and tide, and the sea was a mere 30 meters away. Geology eroded away. The light was attracting people like moths to a flame, all those people who had lived, worked and died in the lighthouse over the years.
He interviewed the victim’s boyfriend, Paul Farmer, and uncovered a coincidence. He was related to a former lighthouse keeper at Chatham.
He went to the disco at ‘Syd’s Club’, but his girlfriend, the victim, went off with Charlie Stanley, his friend, and they gave him the slip.
‘They gave me the run around’ he said. ‘He packed it in with her after; he left her a message on her mobile’
His mind buzzed with the information. Had he been jealous, and killed her? When was the message left on her phone? Was she alive or dead when it was left?
‘He’ll have to look at your phone and check all that’ he said to him.
Paul’s parents said he was home by 11,30, which was unusually early for a Friday night at the disco. He interviewed around the customers of the club to see who had seen him and to try to get some idea of how the evening had panned out. Like a game of chess, he thought to himself. His friend Simon Jones was clearly annoyed with Paul for leaving early.
He asked Simon about Charlie and Simon said
He was asking more stupid questions, and he felt like a proper Charlie .
Charlie told me he’d got a cab for Tanya at midnight. ‘He saw her into the cab’ He said.
‘What cab company’ he asked and he gave me the name.
‘How can you be so sure?’ he asked, and then he remembered that the only cab company that ran from the disco was those run by Syd’s brother, Frank. ‘Forget it’ he said.
‘Who else saw you and what time did you get home’ he asked.
The same questions, the same routine. Year after year, case after case. The drip, drip, drip of legwork.
Charlie had no real alibi and was a bit sketchy on the details.
‘Only the cabbie who took Tanya saw me’ he said.
‘It was after midnight when he got home. He got a, taxi too, so the cabbie who took me will vouch for me’
‘A right skinfull after cheating with your friend’s girlfriend’ he muttered.
‘Great’ he thought, as he drove to Frank’s cab lock-up. He was in the police car with Claire, the sergeant from the local station. We’d been posted together for the duration of the case.
‘Charlie gets a cab from Frank, so does Tanya, and so does Tanya’s boyfriend, Paul. Even her ex-boyfriend Allen Smith got a cab that night. He supposed it was better than drink driving.
If the cabbie kills Tanya he could accuse anyone of the crime. – Just great’
‘Paul’s related to a former lighthouse keeper and knows the lighthouse inside out, but has a solid cast iron alibi, Frank’s cabbies gave them all lifts home and Syd probably knew that too! It’s all going pear-shaped from the kickoff’
‘Don’t panic, it’ll all come out in the wash’ said Claire
‘I hope so’ he said. ‘Wait till we have a good look at Frank’s place and the log book and cabbie rostra’
Inside Frank’s place, looking at the fare log book and Claire’s checking the duty rostra for the night. We’re busy trying to figure out who took Paul, Tanya, and Charlie. Frank’s pacing up and down, telling him that he was barking up the wrong tree.
‘All the cabbies are clean; they’ve got licenses and took the fares after dropping them off, and came back, immediately and took other fares.’ Frank’s telling me. ‘I run a tight ship’
Frank shouts ‘Look, he’ll save you the leg work, Ray took Paul, he took Charlie and Julie took Tanya. Julie dropped her near the strand, she radioed it in. That’s right close to her house, just across the road.’
‘Did she wait to see her cross the road?’
‘Of course she did, and she saw her walk up the garden path.’
‘Did she see her go in, Frank?’
‘I don’t know, but she got a fare straight after, so she’d have shot off to that. Look, she feels bad enough about all this, and she says she watched her put the key in the door, and that’s as good as it gets, without carrying her up to bed and tucking her in with a bedtime story’
‘About a mile from where the body was found Frank, about a mile to death’ he said sternly. ‘That makes Julie one of the last people to see her alive, the body was found at half past midnight.’
We interviewed Julie together, Claire and he. She looked awful, eyes like a panda and skin like tracing paper. ‘he should have watched her into the house’ said Julie ‘but the radio buzzed, and he answered it and when he looked up, she was gone, so he assumed she’d gone in’
‘She may very well have gone in’ he said, ‘only to come back out later. We don’t know exactly what happened.’
‘Yes we do’ said Julie, ‘They found her dead’
‘Look’, said Claire ‘You can’t beat yourself up about that, just tell us exactly what happened that night and we’ll try to put the pieces together. Who knows, maybe another witness saw her after you dropped her off.’
Claire slowly asked the questions, and typed up the statement, and got Julie to sign it off. We’d got her the duty solicitor, but she was cooperating.
‘Now don’t you worry Julie, no-one’s accusing you of anything.’ ‘It’s just that forensics will have to look at your cab, to see what signs there are, you know, just to rule you out’
Julie handed us the keys ‘Go on then, I’ve nothing to hide.’ she said, sadly.
He didn’t tell her that we had a warrant anyway. It seemed pointless to hammer nails into the coffin. He showed the warrant to the solicitor on the way out, anyway.
A pickup truck came later and towed it away. ‘There goes her livelihood’ he thought, ‘At least for a couple of weeks.’
The chase, the choice.
We were going nowhere fast so he asked Claire to do some more background research
‘Have a look at Paul’s family background’ Maybe you can trace Paul’s relative from the research. Go back to the county archives and the naval archives and look at all the sources you can find, books, newspapers, anything that could give us a lead.’
‘Thanks Guv’, she said, ‘You have a real way with the ladies’
‘I’m sorry’, he said. ‘Hold on, he’ll do the council archives, you do the naval ones, how about that?’
She smiled at me and nodded, it seemed fairer that way.
The first thing he looked at was the lighthouse plans. There were four floors to the building which surrounded the tower. The lower floor was an enormous square entrance hall, with a kitchen adjacent to it. In the kitchen was a pantry. A staircase led to the second floor, and another to the basement. On the second floor were the storage rooms and there was a staircase to the top floor, and the bedrooms and living quarters. A smaller staircase led up to a hatch in the roof, which led to the machine room where the lift windings were located.
On the third floor a door was cut into the brick tower of the lighthouse, for quick access to the light.
He found the old lift, but it didn’t seem to work on his visit. The floors were all built around the tower, which was older than the surrounding buildings which had been added to house the keepers when no one from the local surrounding could be found and they’d had to import people from far and wide to do the job of lighthouse keeper. Originally, the lighthouse had been remote, distant from the town of Chatham, but urban growth had invaded the privacy of the place. The lighthouse marked the entrance into the Royal naval Dockyard at Chatham, but this had closed over thirty years ago, when he was just a child. It was never manned when we played in the spooky gardens, at least he never remember seeing anyone , but then again we’d often played in holidays. Perhaps the light had been automated . More research would find out.
He carried on leafing through the dusty archives, shifting through boxes and files, wearing white gloves, looking at signatures of long dead and famous admirals. Even Victory was there, with some documents relating to the construction of HMS Victory, in 1759. The first buildings at the dockyards had been commissioned in 1544 at Jillingham(Gillingham) water .
The keepers of the flame
Almost everybody in Chatham was employed either directly or indirectly by the Royal Naval Base, and when it closed in the early 1980’s thousands became unemployed and hundreds of years of heritage ended. Luckily, today there is still a heritage center to visit, and buildings like the commissioner’s house, and the joiners shop to admire. There is a rope museum and a tourist center for those tourists who venter into the old docks. The real reason for its closure was its reputation and part of that came from the moral sapping lighthouse. As the years went by, more and more ships avoided Chatham, going up the Thames instead of the Medway, Avoiding the mists of the Medway marshes, haunted by jack-o’-lanterns and wrecks in the sticky mud, and the misty islands, reputed to be haunted by long dead Napoleonic soldiers who were prisoners of war.
The marshes were evil-smelling and had hamlets and villages dotted around them, as if popularity was nowhere to be found. Dickens had documented them well, capturing their eeriness in ‘Great Expectations’ when describing Magwich on the prison ships found within the marshes.
Other Royal dockyards were more popular with sailors, who preferred Plymouth to Chatham, and navigation was easier to Plymouth.
The Dockyard closed and the life went out of Chatham, but death didn’t go from the lighthouse.
The lighthouse was built as a result of the 1836 act of parliament which gave the Trinity house Corporation the powers to buy out private owners of lighthouses. It was designed originally in 1807 as a tribute to Admiral Lord Nelson, who lived in the Admiralty house, and who died in 1805.Trfalgar square was built in London as a national tribute, and so the tower was redesigned early on in its construction as a lighthouse. The quarters were added on the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, with the advent of electricity, and the lift apparatus were installed in 1910.These had been updated in the 1930’s, and again in the 1960’s.Originally, the light was candle power, but carbon arcs and tungsten filaments and finally halogen bulbs replaced the candles.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the lighthouse was the people who worked there, and Claire was busy looking at that. She’d emailed me the details.
He’d also found the details of the fort construction and fortification of the lines defense in Chatham.
The lighthouse tower at Chatham was built in the 1760’s as part of the defenses around Chatham.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the light house was the people who’d been in charge of it.
Claire’s email listed the ones that were known, and the rest didn’t really matter. It seemed to be a family affair with at least three lighthouse members being related.
Several of the crew members had disappeared in mysterious circumstances, vanishing in bad weather, or just disappearing in the night.
He flicked through the official history, vainly trying to find the details.
The book detailed the dates and changes. Each lighthouse keeper had a short biography and stories attached to them, as well as the work that was carried out to the light house.
The first keepers of note were three brothers, the Trimble brothers. They didn’t live at the light house, but nearby.
They used to climb the external ladder to gain access to the light, and no internal staircase was built at this time. Their father took over the running when his sons fell ill and died, in 1866. The eldest son, Alfred Trimble died of pneumonia, the youngest of appendicitis and Frederick died of a heart attack. The brothers were all aged 38, 40 and 45 when they started their jobs at the light house and for twenty years they oversaw the safe running of the light. Indeed, the brothers lived an exemplary life, watching the ships in and out of Chatham in safety. Just after their deaths in 1866,excavations found the skeletons of Napoleonic prisoners of war.
The lighthouse had been built in part by Napoleonic POW’s and on their graves. The rumors of what happened to the Prisoners of war were proven true.
Paul Trimble took over the lighthouse and ran it until his death, at the very old age of 102.
At the time he was the oldest person recorder living in Chatham and local people started rumors about his age and the link to his profession. The locals said that will-o’-the-wisp ghosts flickered and danced on the marshes , that they were the spirits of long dead soldiers, and that the Trimble’s had made a pact with a witch or even the Devil to keep the lighthouse in the family.
However, smugglers were very active in the marshes and invented stories to keep nosey people at bay, and the will o’ the wisp was just gas from the marshes spontaneously igniting. The eyots and inlets of the marshes weren’t just home to herons, but to smugglers and wreckers, who lost business due to the lighthouse.
The Trimble’s carried on the family tradition, Thomas and Lionel were twins, both disappearing in a storm , on the eve of World War One, never to be seen again.
Emily Trimble took over the running of the lighthouse in WWI and WWII.
In World War he Emily lied about her age, being only 10 at the time. She ran the tower again in WW2, leaving aged 42, heavily pregnant with her last child. This child was the ancestor of the Allen family. One of the people he would have to interview in the next few days.
He didn’t know it at the time, but the lighthouse would come to haunt and oppress me with its heavy history.
He read on, flicking from story to story.
John Cook and Ray Jones came from the Royal Navy, and they were found dead in 1922. Alcohol was suspected as both men were found beaten badly and a drunken brawl was assumed. Both men were found dead. Wally Andrews drowned in 1930, helping the lifeboat crew and after this no local people could be found to run the light house because of rumors of a curse.
John Lloyd and Stephan Brown came to run the house fresh from school.
John left only during the war years and spent his working life at the light house before a tragic lift accident killed him.
Stephan Brown left to run Dover lighthouse and Fred Bonner came from Scotland to help John Lloyd. Fred worked from 1936 to 1952, retiring from service due to ill-health.
Neil Evens took over but committed suicide in 1960.The lighthouse’s grim reputation became deeper, darker, and multidimensional. Jason Still then came to work the lighthouse with John Lloyd, but both men were killed when the lift they were in crashed. The power was later found to be off and all the safety features were intact.
The lift couldn’t be repaired unless the power supply was on, and so the accident was a mystery.
Peter Williams and Richard Parker ran the lighthouse after, but both were swept out to see in The Great Storm of 1970.
In 1973 Halogen lights were installed and the crew was cut to one man.
Three keepers came and went in quick succession, all of them dying untimely deaths. Jacob Matthews was electrocuted by the lamps. Leo Fletcher died of a drug overdose and Steve Evans was killed, crushed by the train which brought provisions to the Royal Naval Dockyard.
The last keeper, Jenny Walker was found dead from a suspected stroke, rare in someone so young;
The last entry in the lighthouse log was in April 1986 and she was found dead weeks after.
After her death automation was the future.
The Thatcher government decided the dockyard’s fate and closed the whole Royal Naval Dockyard, ending centuries of tradition. The lighthouse closed in 1994, GPS taking its role.
The Pharos and lighthouses of old had been replaced by the new lighthouses in the sky, satellites.
Death seemed to seep through the walls of the lighthouse. Terror stalked in the shadows. He counted slowly, fourteen unusual deaths and now he had one more to investigate.
The dust and silence of the library speckled through the air, lit by sun beams, the dusty air seemed to dance in front of his eyes.
It was time to get out into the real world again.
The smell of old newspapers and documents stuck to me like smoke from a fire.
The newspapers sure liked to overcook the story. He couldn’t read any more history.
He walked outside, memories in his head. He could remember his father telling me that the last keeper was a woman as a child. He told me stories, almost ghost like and crazy.
He thought the stories were designed by parents to keep curious children from paying in the grounds of the lighthouse. It made our gang play there all the more, as if the danger drew us to the light, moths to a flame.
Why hadn’t the murder victim listened to the rumors?
Our gang never dared go to the lighthouse, climbing the fence and looking at the derelict overgrown weed tangled gardens was a far as we got, and exploring the old bomb shelter with its old pictures and ration books left as if the end of the world had been avoided, yellowing calendars pinned to the wall.
The whole atmosphere in the gardens was so tense we never dared go to the lighthouse.
The demolition was planned now, and soon the ghosts of the past would be laid to rest and mystery would no longer surround this place.
He slipped out of the office at work, trying to figure it all out. He’d drawn maps, sketches and made a plan of the grounds and inside and outside of the lighthouse, labeling the positions of the body and clues and other artifacts.
The DNA profile would be back soon and the lab had finished the samples from Charlie, Allen and Frank as well as all the cabbies. Claire came back with some info too. She’d been recalled, taken off the case; from now on, it was me with the Bobbies from the station.
‘Great’ he said.
‘Check the DNA before you go Claire, and keep in touch!’
Was she asking to go, or being told to?
She turned, and went. He didn’t really care anymore, or perhaps it was just he pretended not to care, and glanced at the print out.
He’d have words, later with the chief about all this.
None of these matched. The test was reliable. Back to square one. He was stumped.
Forensics came back, fingerprints negative. Nobody on his list had ever put foot in the lighthouse or so it seemed. Allen, Charley, Frank and the cabbies, Paul…. Hell’s bells. Leastways they’d not been careless enough to leave a trace or any mark of their presence. Whoever was in the lighthouse had planned it, but they surely left a trace as there was some unknown male DNA.
‘That’s the killer there’ he stabbed his finger at the test results. ‘But who is it?’
He drove to Syd’s Disco, he needed a drink. When he got there, Syd wanted to go to the lighthouse.
‘That’s out of bounds, Syd.’
‘But we’ve got some new evidence’ he insisted. He phoned the chief
‘This better be good Partridge’ yelled the chief. ‘Swab him down to rule him out.’
‘This better be interesting Syd’ he echoed as we drove to the lighthouse. ‘We’ve had a shitty day’.
Later we stood, in the twilight, under the beech trees. He was thinking, watching, the last autumnal sunbeams were breaking through the drowning leaves. What was it that Syd wanted to show me?
He hid in the shadows, pondering what to do next. Death had stalked this place. And Claire had gone, cleaning out her desk, in that silent way.
Syd said ‘Sorry Partridge, it’s a wild goose chase. I’m not going any further. Cancel the lab swabs, I’ve nothing else to say, nothing to show you.’
‘I just wanted to see this spooked out place, from the outside, I’m not going in!’
‘Bloody great Syd’. He pulled them out of the grounds.
He drove him back to Frank’s place.
He sent the swabs to the lab, just for the show of it. It’d take a few days before they came back.
Chapter 6 Back on the job
Back in Frank’s office, we chatted.
Frank was a big, burly black-haired man, with a 70’s style moustache and side burns; the afternoon stubble was thick, and after a day of work the office lingered and stank.
‘Bloody hell, Frank, don’t you wash?’
‘Leave it out Partridge’ he said, ‘We worked all night, and I’ve got a reputation to rebuild’
‘Serves you right, ‘he retorted ‘having the cartel at Syd’s place! What about the other taxi firms in the towns!’
Syd looked at me as if he was from another planet.
‘Shut up Partridge!’ he said. ‘Listen, Just leave it out, I’m trying to run a business, not be a mother to the cabbies, who are just trying to earn an honest buck, ok!’
‘And knock off young women who rely on them getting them safety home’ he shouted.
‘OK Partridge, but none of the cabbies have form, and it’s all above board’
He thought for a while. Things didn’t seem what they were being made out to be.
‘I’m digging deeper Frank! Who gave the victim the ride home?’
‘Look at the book!’ Shouted Frank.
‘It’s all there in black and white Ray Nevis gave a lift to Allen Oaks, he took Charlie Selves and Julie Sparks gave Tanya a lift home, it’s all noted down.’
‘Yes, but is that reliable?’
‘Of course it is, or he’d go out of business!’ Frank was sweating even more, and looked like he needed a good night’s sleep. All the more reason to press home the advantage!
‘I’m testing those swabs anyway, and I’m speaking to the cabbies again!’
Frank looked up at me. ‘And he’ll speak to Syd too!’
Down at the cop shop, was asking the chief for a long piece of rope to hang myself with.
The red mist of anger was washed away, and tiredness crept over me, like a long shadow from the autumnal evenings.
Allen Oaks is in one room, writing out a statement and shitting his pants, he’s asking for a brief, so he smell a rat. But he’s entitled to legal representation.
Syd is in another room, he need some information from him. The video from the club is being looked at and rerecorded for evidence, and we’ve got three officers in the club, going over the place with a fine toothed comb; getting the warrant was hell!
We started writing down the details for Syd. He realized he didn’t know his surname! After all these years. ‘Turner’ he spat out.
The young constable notes it all down, pressing the record button on the tape.
In the third room, Charlie Selves, his main suspect is getting a grilling. He’s got no motive, so we’re being nasty bastards and breathing down his neck. He wants a lawyer too, so we’ll have to ease up with the heavy stuff.
The chief takes me to one side ‘Look Partridge, half the station are taking interviews and the other half want solicitors! You could have taken statements in situ. Why didn’t you!’
‘Well he wanted to control the situation, see what came out. he wanted to focus the memories of the cab drivers, see if the stories tally, and he reckon this way we’ll find out something we aren’t meant to know’
‘This had better work, or we’ll have words Partridge!’
He ducked into the small room with Julie Sparks in it. She’s finished her statement, and looks weepy; Ok Julie, if you remember anything else, you know the drill, you know where to come.’ he open the door, and ask her jokingly not to leave the country. She smiles. ‘She was just a poor kid, so young, so beautiful’
‘He nodded ‘Someone didn’t want her around! Someone didn’t like her very much at all’
Julie looks very sad, so he calm her down, and ask a female police officer to take her home.
No one’s blaming you Julie, you did the right thing; now get off home’
Its times like this when he missed Claire.
Life can be patronizing sometimes!
Hours later, the buzz has gone out of the station. We’ve got all the statements, taken swabs from everyone, stirred up a hornet’s nest and upset suspects and the local solicitor’s office.
No one is a happy bunny.
It’s a hot, golden autumnal evening, heavy with thunder, the calm before the storm. He need a shower, sweating and fretting. The cabbies were sweating too, and thinking of Julie Spark’s face doesn’t ease his mind either .Too tired to read these statements. Sleep beckons.
So he go home, frustrated and tired. On the way, he drive past the lighthouse, and someone has turned on the light.
He can taste the metal in his mouth. Ill ness has racked him, weakening his body for years. The stress and the fear prick at his ears.
Where was Claire when he needed her? She’d gone now. He’d just have to accept it.
He radioed into the station. He need assistance, and no mistake.
Chapter 7 END GAMES
The chief’s voice crackled over the radio. ‘I’m holding Charlie Selves overnight’ the chief said.
The chief sounds distant on the radio. At least he know it’s not Charlie Selves messing about in the lighthouse.
Two squad cars arrive, and four colleagues come to help. The weather breaks, as it’s been threatening to do all day, and heavy rain starts falling. Drops splash the dust up, and breathing becomes heavier, then easier, as the atmosphere lightens; We run to the lighthouse, heading for cover, half glad to make it into the dry, half scared to death about what we’ll find in there; The door is open, , we stand inside, halfheartedly trying to decide what to do.
‘Get inside’ he says, ‘We won’t get dry out here’
He shoved the door open, and two colleagues ran up the stairs.
One stays put, near the door, the other comes with me, heading to the top floor; ‘
‘Watch the exits, lad, and radio if you see anyone, no matter what’
he didn’t like the idea of leaving him alone, but it won’t be long.
‘If you find the light switch, turn it off, he don’t want any shipping incidents’ he shout, his voice echoing round the empty building. he climbed up the flights of stairs, listening for movements; all is quiet, except the beating of his heart. No-one here, so it’s up the ladder to the light. he climb, snakingly to the top, through the trap door, onto the flat roof, and he’m in the rain. Someone’s been here, and not long ago, the wisps of smoke spiral from a cigarette but on the floor, slowly guttering out in the rain. he grasp his tweezers from his coat pocket, get the butt, nip it out, and slip it into a plastic evidence bag. The years of practice make it easy, almost robotic.
The thunder storm has made the evening darken, and the light sweeps the gardens and harbor in the dockyard, producing an eerie, milky corridor of cold light, reflecting the puddles and catching the drops as they fall.
he push open the door, finally, and clamber into the light, out of the rain. The lamp sweeps around, so he turn his back to it, close his eyes as the light sweeps past, trying to keep his night vision. He shuffled his hands along the railings, using it as a guide, half opening his eyes, half blinded by the light. Its close in the room, heavy, oppressive. he shuffle along the circular walkway which threads around the light, dazzled, looking out onto the gardens; there in the light he see a figure, running towards the parked police patrol cars. But the light moves round, he have to wait till it comes again to see who! Too late, they’ve disappeared.
he turn to the light, and he’m dazzled. Finally, he find the main switch, and heave the handle down.
The light stops, turning and the white ness behind his eyelids hurts less now. However it’s very quiet, very dark and he’m very nervous. The radio in his pocket is shouting his name, and he realize he’m too ill and too old for this lark.
And too prickly. Claire had gone. he wondered how long his lover would hang around. Domestic scenes played across his mind.
‘What’s going on?’ he curse down the radio he saw someone out there, making a move in the light, but who’
The two police officers who went the other direction radio in
‘We need an ambulance quick, there’s a body on the floor up here’
Bloody hell. What a mess.
‘Don’t touch anything till forensics get here’
he staggered to the room, dazed and dazzled; the body was Julie Sparks. It dawned on me, slowly, and then hit me in the guts like a prize fighter in the final round, hoping to win on points.
‘Forget the ambulance’, he said. ‘We need pathology and forensics. She’s been dead a while’
In the back of his mind he knew, it couldn’t be that long; the WPC took her home, less than 3 hours ago.
Then he knew he needed a break.
The chief arrived, later.
‘You’d better tell me more about Tanya’ he said. ‘he’ve had enough bull shit for one week’
The chief said ‘You’ve got all the facts Partridge, her name, her background. But there is one detail that he can tell you now, it was hushed up because she’s the mayor’s daughter, but Tanya was probably a prostitute.’
‘Really!’ he was amazed. But it made sense now.
The chief continued ‘She’s not the first victim’
His eyes bulged in disbelief
‘Why didn’t you tell me all this at the beginning! We’ve been chasing shadows!’
The chief said two words that sent shivers down his spine ‘Serial killer’
‘he thought it was a local thing gone wrong!’ he said ‘Not silence of the lambs or Jack the Ripper!’
‘The cats out of the bag now’.
‘So Julie Sparks was on the game too’. he whistled, in disbelief.
A shadow came towards us. ‘She was more than that; she ran the whole set up’. A voice echoed in the gardens, and we saw Frank standing in the grass.
‘How do you know that Frank?’
‘She ran it through the cab office. he’ve just found out. One of her girls came to find her, and he said she was on a fare. But he radioed her cab, and her last call was from the Rose and crown car park. When no answer came, he came down here to see where she was; he phoned you guys too, just in case.
A colleague confirmed it.
That’s when he missed Claire, when it’s the anonymous bobby.
‘So it was you he saw in the light, Frank’
‘No’ said Frank ‘he saw someone running down the road, being chased by your colleagues.’
‘Ok Frank, you’d better come down to the station, let’s get this story straight!’
He would read the statements and frank could tell me more.
‘I thought the prostitutes went, when the dockyard closed’ he said to Frank
‘Don’t be naïve Partridge, the Eastern girls always came, and where there is a will, there is a way.’
‘Finish up that statement Frank, and then we’ll see where we stand’
Two of his younger patrol men returned, with a suspect in the car.
‘Get him inside then lads’ he said.
He went into the chief’s office. Well, we can let Charlie Selves go, he has to be innocent, as he was in custody, and you’re looking for a serial killer’
And a result, the lads caught the suspect we saw at the lighthouse.
We went down to the cells, and opened the door.
‘Still smoking then Syd’ he said
‘How did you know’ said Syd, turning round
‘You were the link to all the girls. They all went to your club, and you had access to Frank’s cabs, and you knew about the prostitutes. You murdered Julie to take over the outfit’
The chief spat out
‘I’m arresting you for the murders of Julie Sparks, Tanya Green and the other girls. You don’t have to say anything………….’
It was times like this that he missed Claire.
Syd was the link
He’d introduced Tanya green to Allen Oaks, as he knew Alan Oaks was related to former keepers; he tried to set him up, and then set up Charlie. Charlie admitted he was using prostitutes in his statement and he said he was the pimp, to cover for Julie. He’d owned up to all that during his night in the cells. At least the night had been productive.
Syd later admitted that he had turned the light on to lure people to the lighthouse, only he hadn’t bargained on us. Like moths to a flame.
It was later when he was sitting in the office trying to work it all out. Nothing made any sense. All the maps, diagrams, told me nothing. No fingerprints helped. he looked at the DNA profile which had just arrived. he checked with Syd’s genetic profile… It matched.
The one person he hadn’t suspected. Not at first.
He drove down to Syd’s place, he needed a drink. It was closed, of course, Syd’s in custody. he drove on, to another bar.
He could see the lighthouse, through the windows.
Work would start on its demolition soon, and he was glad.It had claimed many victims over the years, as well as saving some sailors too. Syd would go to prison, or plead insane. He didn’t know which, didn’t care.
he gazed into his drink.
Even if he got life, that wouldn’t bring back any of the victims.
Life goes on , but for Partridge, this could be the last case. The stress and the lies, the politics, are all too much.
He emailed Claire for the show of it, or perhaps he still had some professional conscience left after all.
Tanya won’t talk now, she won’t embarrass dad anymore.
After, when they demolished the lighthouse, they found the bones of long dead Napoleonic prisoners of war. The place was cursed, and no mistake. Or so said the red neck locals. Luxury flats were going to be built on this spot now, but he couldn’t see many takers.
he drove back, back through the years, back home. Wherever that is.